I wanted him to hold my hand. He wanted me to hold his stuff.

A few months ago Ray’s company was hired to provide sound equipment and photography for a gospel concert at Daystar University’s Athi River campus. This campus is unique for various reasons, but I’d say the greatest reason is probably the fact that it’s in the middle of a game reserve. Even as we drove up to the campus that day, we were greeted by herds of wildebeest and zebra.

There was one particular zebra beside the road that stopped to stare at us as we stared at him.

zebra run

He was standing there watching us for a while, but by the time I got my camera out he was movin’ on out.

zebra run

And there he goes!

That zebra, in all its striped majesty possessed the power required to lift me out of out what was quickly developing into a foul mood.

TIA strikes again

See, Ray and I live in a town called Ongata Rongai. With little to no traffic on the road, it’s about half an hour away from Nairobi city. If you leave at the wrong time though, you could be sitting in traffic for an hour or two. That morning Ray’s co-workers were supposed to pick me up and bring me to meet Ray in town. They came on time, we arrived at the rendezvous point, and everything was going according to schedule until… TIA. We ended up sitting in a hot car and waiting for at least two hours before all the other guys showed up.

Aching head? Check.

Sweaty pits? Check.

Growling stomach? Check.

We hadn’t even begun the 40 km drive yet! And fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Subway do not exist here.

When we finally reached Daystar, the zebra encounter managed to distract me enough to keep me from assuming full Hulk-mode, but thankfully Ray noticed that all too familiar greenish hue beginning to surface on my skin, so he wisely took some time to take me to the campus restaurant. We enjoyed a very tasty dinner together before he had to get to business. Crisis averted.

Lost in translation

This was my first official outing with Ray to one of his jobs, so I didn’t know what to expect, but I was hoping that we would get to enjoy it together somehow. We had already had such a lovely dinner together, why let the fact that he was on a job get in the way? If you don’t know already, one of my love languages is quality time, so nothing would have made the night better for me than for Ray to come cuddle up beside me to enjoy the show.

I found a nice bench near the stage and waited for Ray to take care of some preliminary details before joining me. Fluffing my hair and crossing my legs in a “yeah, I’m that guy’s wifey” kind of way, I waited… and waited. Finally he approached.

“Babe, can you hold this bag for me?”

In moments like that it’s very easy for me to be a brat and whine about how he’s not paying attention to me, but then I remembered that not an hour earlier, he had taken time away from setting up with the crew to cater to my needs. The least I could do was comply with his request. Now, one of Ray’s love languages is acts of service, so for me to act like his personal assistant expressed love and support to him in the same way his taking time to eat with me expressed love to me. It sounds simple enough, but not too long after that I found someone to chat with and left his bag of equipment totally unattended. Eventually he took the bag away from me and put it backstage. I had one job to do…

As the night went on and the crowd grew larger, my dull headache quickly spiraled into a stampede of wildebeest back and forth between my temples. Ray was all over the place taking pictures yet coming to check on me periodically, and I was trying to pretend like I was enjoying myself.

love language

Don’t let this picture fool you. It was taken fairly early in the night.

Normally in the States you have maybe two or three opening acts before the main act appears on stage, but that night there were no less than ten, closer to twenty different acts and with each act, the crowd got bigger and wilder.

daystar crowd

The wildebeest were now frolicking as merrily as the day is long all over my cranial region.

“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home,” I whispered over and over.

I may have had the Kansas thing going for me, but beige flats does not magic slippers make.

Ray spotted me shriveling in my seat, looking like I wanted to clothesline everyone within a ten yard radius, so he gave his camera to one of the other guys and took me backstage to watch the rest of the show while we cuddled in the corner.

Ahhh, finally.

Before the night was over, Ray gave me what I needed most, a little TLC, and I got to redeem myself by carrying some of his stuff to the car before heading out. That night had all the makings of inciting an icy cold car ride home, what with my ridiculously high expectations despite the fact that Ray was supposed to be focused on work, but we made it work.

In the end I got him to hold my hand and he got me to hold his stuff. But we’ve decided that I won’t be attending anymore jobs in the future.

We’ve been learning a lot about the different ways our love languages have created funny, and not so funny, dynamics in our relationship. Anyone else have any interesting love language stories? We’d love to hear them.

The top 3 wasteful things my AmeriKenyan wife does in the kitchen

banana

(Note from Sam: the other day Ray and I were watching a movie where some American kids were having a food fight. The scene reminded me of my high school days, so in an attempt to elicit some fun stories from my husband, I harmlessly turned to Ray and asked, “Did you guys ever have food fights in school?” He looked at me like I had six eyeballs and said, “No… we can’t afford stuff like that. People are dying of starvation here. How can we have food fights?” That was part of the inspiration behind this post.)

1. Eating bananas

It’s true that people die of poverty in some parts of Kenya every year,  so from childhood we are raised with sayings such as, “Anything that’s not poisonous is food,” or “Put on your plate that which you can finish,” and so on. On several occasions I have passed by a grocery shop to get a banana or two for my wife, with the aim of bringing my A game as a husband, only for my wife to give me a crestfallen look when she realizes the banana is kind of old or has black spots. She typically bites off a section of the banana that is purely white, and for a moment thinks of throwing the rest, but then she remembers Mama Jeannette’s voice saying, “Sam, kids are dying in Africa.” It’s usually then that she remembers she has an African for a husband, so she gives me the rest to finish.

2.Tomatoes, green pepper, avocado, and cilantro

It would be nothing more than wishful thinking for me to say that we are a wealthy couple. Every shilling and scrap of food we have in the house counts. If my wife notices the tomatoes are a bit squishy, she will remove all the inner parts and just use the skin. When she first moved here, she would just throw them away altogether. Same thing with avocado. Here we don’t throw avocado away until it has turned black on the inside. My wife will throw it away as soon as it gets too squishy for her liking, which is what we call ripe. If a green pepper is slightly old and soft or the cilantro has like two or three black leaves, my taste buds will have to go without those flavorful ingredients for a meal. See, we don’t have a refrigerator, so if we use half of a green pepper in a dish, the other half will stay on the counter until we need it in another dish. Sam has to force herself not to throw them away even when the edges start curling in.

A man marries a woman hoping she would never change, a woman marries a man thinking that she can change him.Source : http://www.coolnsmart.com/funny_marriage_quotes/
A man marries a woman hoping she would never change, a woman marries a man thinking that she can change him.Source : http://www.coolnsmart.com/funny_marriage_quotes/
A man marries a woman hoping she would never change, a woman marries a man thinking that she can change him.Source : http://www.coolnsmart.com/funny_marriage_quotes/
A man marries a woman hoping she would never change, a woman marries a man thinking that she can change him.Source : http://www.coolnsmart.com/funny_marriage_quotes/

3. Piling up utensils

This one isn’t wasteful as much as it is weird for me. From childhood, Kenyan girls are raised to believe they are helpers, like in the physical sense. It would be so rude after dinner for a young girl to sit there with the elders watching TV when dirty utensils are all over the table. Culturally it’s her duty not only to take it to the kitchen, but to clean it as well. My wife lets the dishes pile up and washes them at her own time. She blames the fact that aside from the last place she lived, she always had a dishwasher, so she’s not a fan of washing dishes. At first I never used to like it, but once I realized that she has her own way of doing housework, I had to accommodate her way of doing things. She reminds me of my sister who, when it comes to cleaning, is slow and may appear lazy, but once she gets to cleaning, the house will be sparkling clean.

(Sam: I’m also learning to accommodate my husband by changing my habits around the house so as to honor him and his culture. As much as I hate dishes, I’ve grown to hate having Ray come home to a sink full of dirty dishes even more, so that has helped pushed me out of some of my lazy habits [though I’m not going to lie, I still go a day or two without doing the dishes]. And to this day, I’ve used old, soft, or blackened vegetables in recipes and I have yet to get sick. It’s sad to think about all of the vegetables I’ve wasted in the past. Once we get back to the States, I think I’ll be able to get more value out of our fruits and veggies, so I’m very grateful to the Kenyan culture for that.)

 

Who wears the pants in your family?: a co-blog

IMG_6156

Before we got married, Ray and I received very similar warnings:

“Be careful of American women. They’re very controlling.”

“Be careful of African men. They’re very controlling.”

To say the least, these well meant presages have created some very interesting dynamics within our relationship.

Revisiting the power of words (S’ambrosia)

I’ve written about the power of words before in the “Oh Be Careful, Little Mouth” post that went semi-viral (1,000 views within a few days is pretty exciting for a fledgling writer like myself), but I didn’t realize until recently just how much those “beware, take care” conversations had affected our relationship well before we were married. When you have statements like that repeated to you frequently, and by people you love and respect, it becomes very easy to slip into misinterpreting or even demonizing the actions of your spouse.

During my time in Kenya prior to our engagement, I came to know Ray as a big ole’ squishy teddy bear. He was the most amiable guy I’d ever met with a mammoth sized heart of compassion that was bent on serving others before himself (even to the point of being taken advantage of). It wasn’t until I came back home and announced my engagement, that I began to see him in a different light, as various people emerged out of the woodwork to warn me about how mean African men are to women. For the longest time I tried to defend Ray and explain to people that when they met him they would see for themselves that he wasn’t at all like what they described, but my attempts were to no avail. They would give me those “knowing” nods and tell me that they’d pray for me, and I would leave the conversation slightly frustrated, but impacted all the same.

I never knew how bad the impact was until Ray and I would talk on the phone or Skype.

All of a sudden, everything he said was offensive to me, and every single word had a subversive meaning behind it. I became paranoid about whether or not he had ulterior motives for marrying me, and I frequently voiced the concern (not really my concern, but the concern other people had drilled into my head) that he would change after we married.

At the same time, Ray was voicing concerns of his own…

What’s going on in the kitchen? (Ray)

Knowing the culture I was marrying into, I was scared at first because of what everybody around me was saying. I heard things like: your wife won’t let you see your family and friends or your wife will make you wash her panties. The list was endless.  I remember my friend from the States, after I told him I was marrying an American, told me that one thing I should keep in mind is that they should always have their way. Discouraging, right? I tried to safeguard myself from statements like this, but they were confirmed one day by a personality inventory we took from a pre-martial counseling packet. One of my highest traits was the lion, a decision maker who is determined, confident, and likes to take charge. Guess what my wife was. She was a lion too. Needless to say, I was a little bit discouraged.

In our culture a wife is responsible for all the household chores, while the husband is in charge of decision making, manual labor or technical work, and of course providing the daily bread. There was a time that African men never went into the kitchen. If a man was ever spotted in the kitchen, he would be the talk of the village; some would even say that his wife is a “control freak” or that ” that man is the woman in that family”, to list but a few. Even if the wife was the breadwinner, we do have some cases of that here, and the husband stayed home, he would hire a house girl to go in the kitchen. With that kind of background, you can imagine how worried I was about what life would look like for me and my American lioness here in Kenya, but I was relieved when my wife told me that she believes that she is the one to take care of the house (even though washing utensils and laundry is not her thing, lol) and merely requested that I would be helping whenever I could. That was one less fight for us to have.

More than a stereotype (S’ambrosia)

As Ray shared, we eventually discovered that control actually would be an issue for us, not because he’s African and I’m American, but because it’s simply the nature of who we are as individuals. We don’t doubt that our cultures have influenced our personalities to some extent, but at least now we can speak about our control issues on a level that goes beyond the cultural stereotypes. Unfortunately, we still hear comments from people who only see me as a typical American stereotype, but once again we have advice from one of our mentors to fall back on. He encouraged us to be each other’s champion. When people from Ray’s culture harp on me for being too “American”, it’s his job to defend me, not mine. The same applies for him. The logic behind that is that when you’re dealing with people of your own culture, it’s easier for them to dismiss an issue when you address it as opposed to when your spouse does. They’ll forgive you quicker than they will him. This has been another great piece of advice that has really helped us stay afloat in either country. It’s also pretty neat to see my husband stand up for me amongst his peers. It really does wonders for my love tank.

Working out the kinks (Ray)

Through the help of our mentors, we also discovered that for an intercultural marriage like ours to work, though I believe the same applies to any marriage, there was a need to create our own culture as a couple. This means we had to  come up with our own set of rules to govern our marriage.  Some rules favored my wife, and some favored me, but above all we had to be accommodating. Even though my wife has agreed to the duty of being a home maker, I have personally made it a rule over the weekends to give her a break from all the duties in the house. It’s still easy for me to do this because we are just the two of us, so I am not afraid of people laughing at me (Sam: this is a legit fear that he has), but what is more important is the fact that we agree on something beforehand, and we do our level best to ensure that we honor our promises. As far as  decision making is concerned, yes I know am the head of the house, but we both have a right to give input, so long as in the end we have each others blessing, even though some decisions may be hard to bear for the moment.

(S’ambrosia) Although part of the Wasike culture involves shared decision making, a very real and current struggle we have with overcoming some of the things people have said/say to us has been Ray’s fear of exerting any control over me in certain situations. Before we were married, some people told him that if he did something I didn’t like, I would get on a plane, go back home, and leave him. No matter how much I tell him I’ll never do that, he can’t shake the doubt. So there are times we will discuss issues and I’ll argue my point, and to keep from having to deal with me getting too upset about how controlling he is, he’ll just say, “Okay, do whatever you want,” and drop the conversation completely. In his mind he’s keeping the peace and appeasing his cray cray wife, but in my mind he’s giving up the right to use his God-given authority as the head of our house. Truth be told, I actually want my husband to boss me around. I don’t mean that in the sense that I want him to be domineering or controlling (you can unfurrow your brows, ladies), but I want to be able to look up to see my husband at the helm of this marriage with one hand in God’s and other in mine and feel nothing but trust in his leadership capabilities. It’s hard to trust your husband’s leadership when he’s always putting you in that role to keep you from bursting into angry dances all over the house.

I have since given Ray total permission to exercise his authority over me without fear, even if it means I have to perform an angry dance or two. I may be throwing a fit, but secretly I’m admiring his ability to lead me in the best way he sees fit. Of course it’s incredibly baffling to him to hear me say something like that when he knows that me giving him authority doesn’t mean that I won’t argue my case until I need to pause for a water break, but he’s coming to understand that just because I want to make sure that I make my points known doesn’t mean that I won’t adhere to his plan. It’s just nice to know that he values my input.

We’re definitely still working this out; my husband is only on book 7 of “How to understand the convolutedness of your wife”, but God is faithful and He really has been teaching us both so much about submitting to one another in love. In turn we’ve agreed to just ditch the pants and clothe ourselves in garments of humility and servitude instead.

Wedding cake & a great big slice of humble pie

One of my favorite quotes from my teenage years comes courtesy of my mother. She had come into the dining room just as I was ending a phone conversation with a friend. As I placed the phone back on the receiver (this was back when everyone had a land line, and cordless phones were on trend), I proceeded to inform my mother that I was getting bored with my friend and that I planned to stop hanging out with her soon. My mom gave one of those long exasperated exhales and shook her head before saying, “I just don’t know how you manage to keep any friends.” Maybe I wasn’t supposed to laugh at that since she was expressing disbelief in the fact that she had raised such a rude daughter, but it was and has always been funny to me. According to my mom, the fact that I have friends is a miracle.

I wish she could see me now.

I am married and amazingly enough, the clerks at the nearby hotel don’t have a secret room permanently reserved for me. Nothing short of a miracle.

A growing distaste for my favorite word

In recent years, one of my favorite words to throw around in any conversation was “introvert”.

“Hey, Sam. You want to come over for dinner tonight?”

“No. I’m an introvert. I’d rather eat alone.”

—–

“Look! There’s a warthog over there!”

“No thanks, I’m an introvert. I don’t follow the crowd.”

—–

God: “Go witness to that person over there.”

“Is it going to start with small talk? I’m an introvert, remember? You know I hate small talk.”

—–

When I first came to understand what the word introvert meant, I felt totally liberated. There was finally scientific evidence to explain why my brain would literally cease to function properly after a few hours of social stimulation, and apparently it was normal. It wasn’t a malfunction! In my excitement, I threw that word around as often as possible. Everyone needed to know, or else they couldn’t be my friend. How else would they understand when I rejected their invitations for large gatherings? Nowadays I can’t help but groan inwardly whenever I hear the word “introvert” leave my lips. Yes, it defines me to a T and has really helped me understand myself and my brain better, but it also has become an excuse for me to refrain from engaging properly in relationships.

Traditionally speaking

Since I’ve been in Kenya, I’ve called home less than ten times. I’ve been away for nearly five months, and look Ma, I’m still homesick free! Yes, I love my family, but I really can go months without talking to them and be just fine. I can’t say the problem is that we’re all introverts, though some of us are, as much as it’s just that we simply lost the ability to communicate properly when we lost mom. You can imagine then how much of a struggle I’m having being in a culture where family ties are very important.

Our African wedding was my first hint of this reality, when after we cut our wedding cake I was instructed to take some to Ray’s grandparents and mom and feed it to them (literally put the cake in their mouth) to symbolize the fact that I’ll take care of Ray and that I’ll look after them as well. We also attended a birthday party for a five year old last week and the same ritual occurs there. The child helps cut the cake and then feeds her parents. From a young age kids are taught to value family ties, and various traditions serve to reiterate that point throughout their lifetime.

Difficulties with ‘leaving and cleaving’

This is definitely something I admire about the culture, as I hope to raise our children in an environment that fosters togetherness, but as someone who would typically choose to spend a Friday night sitting on a warm vent in her apartment watching “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” for the twentieth time instead of going out with friends, this has been incredibly hard. As newlyweds, Ray and I decided to take this first year of marriage to focus on adjusting to one another. During this year we aim to stay out of ministry, treat the weekends as sacred time for ourselves, and not have any kiddos. By doing this we hope to establish a good foundation to our marriage before building a ministry or family.

For the most part we’ve done well in this area, and we feel that our relationship is stronger for it, but it’s kind of unfathomable for his family to see how we can be so “distant” when we’re so close. We hear remarks often about how it’s like we live in the States because they never see us, and how we’ve become strangers and so on and so forth.  Growing up a PK, I’m used to having people gossip about me, so the comments themselves don’t really bother me. What’s most bothersome to me is that in America I could tell people, “Hey, listen. I’m an introvert,” and they would back off and give me some space. They might even apologize for being so intrusive. But Kenyan culture is like my introvert kryptonite. I’ve yet to meet a Kenyan that isn’t impervious to my introverted powers.

Will this be the end of our not-so-super heroine?

There are days, especially when Ray catches wind of some of the gossip that circulates about us, that I feel like detaching completely. I mean, that always worked back in the States. Whenever people got on my nerves, I would just slowly back into my cave and hibernate for months. I can’t do that here. People would either complain until you were guilted into spending time with them or just show up at your house. Like I said, completely impervious.

For a long time I thought the problem lied with the people who didn’t know how to take no for an answer, but if marriage, leave alone culture, has taught me anything about myself, it’s that the problem lies with me. My introverted “powers” are actually a weakness. They indicate a deficiency in my ability to engage in healthy ongoing relationships with people. I don’t know how to work through issues with people, because I always shut them out when the relationship becomes too cumbersome.

That conclusion is pretty easy to come by when you move into a home with your brand spanking new husband, and then after a doozy of an argument, you realize the place didn’t come equipped with a secret hiding place behind a bookcase. There’s no running away in this relationship. I can’t shut him out and pretend that he doesn’t exist when he’s lying next to me in bed snoring to the tune of a steam engine.  I have to choose reconciliation… especially if I plan on sleeping next to him for the rest of my life. I have to choose to pop the bubble I frequently don as my outfit of the day, and let him in so he can become part of my processing routine.

Something I should have done a long time ago

This transition hasn’t come easy. I’ve tried to storm out of the house a number of times, only to walk a few feet out of the gate, hear/spot wild dogs, and run back to the complex to find a safer place to “be alone”. It didn’t take me long to realize that my disappearing act didn’t accomplish much. I was only doing it to punish him, which usually ended up making communication even harder when I would finally return. I’m still allowed time to process, and Ray is really good about giving me space to do that if I absolutely need to work some stuff out internally, but I’m no longer allowed to run away. I mentioned in our co-blog last month that we stress verbalizing issues with each other. Ever so slowly I’m learning how to process outside of myself with my husband instead of shutting him out so that I can sort out the hurricane of thoughts and emotions on my own. Even when it comes to processing, two are better than one.

Throughout my lifetime I’ve offended my fair share of people, and as I reflect today, I realize that I need to apologize. If you’re reading this blog and I’ve used the “introvert” excuse on you, this is for you. First, I want to apologize for using a personality trait as an excuse to put my wants/needs before yours. Secondly, I want apologize for lying, because in order to avoid hanging out, I most likely lied to you. And finally, I want to thank you for still being my friend (I’m assuming if you’re reading this blog we’re still friends) even though I wasn’t a very good one myself. Hopefully by the time we head back to the States I will be in a position to call you just to hang out.

To quote J.P. in reference to the miracle of seeing angels in the outfield: “Hey, it could happen.”